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All Book Reviews

The Martian
Weir, Andy
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Martian was a great book, and I loved it! This book is about a man (Mark) that goes to Mars. when a sand storm hit the HAB hard Mark and his crew decide it is to dangerous to stay or the MAV will tip. When the crew make it to the MAV they realize that mark is not with them. They want to find him but it is just not safe. Mark is stuck on Mars with no means of contacting Earth. Can he survive?

Reviewer's Name: Anneka S.
Wolf by Wolf
Graudin, Ryan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Wolf by Wolf takes place in an alternate reality where the United States never fought in World War II, and Hitler was left undefeated. The book focuses on a jewish girl named Yael. She had been experimented on while in a internment camp. As a result of being experimented on she can change her appearance . Years after her escape she plans to kill Hitler. Looking and acting as Adele Wolfe Yael enters a race known as the Axis Tour. The Axis Tour was cross continental motorcycle race, with rough terrain, and many other challenges. Yael hopes to win the Axis Tour and have the chance to dance with Hitler. This dance could be her chance to kill Hitler. Will Yael survive the challenges of the Axis Tour? Will she win the Axis Tour? Most importantly, doe shse kill Hitler? All of these questions are answer in Wolf by Wolf.

I was recommended this book by friends so many times I had to read it. Ryan Graudin developed Yael's background slowly, revealing more about her throughout the book. Just when you think you know Yael you discover more of her past, and learn about a new "wolf". While I did enjoy the slow development of Yael's background I disliked the beginning of the book. The Axis Tour didn't start until until a few chapters into the book. Which made the book boring at first. However once the Axis Tour portion of the book began the plot became more interesting and complex. While the book focuses on Yael I also enjoyed Felix Wolfe, and Luka Lowe. Yael's relationships with both Luka and Felix make the book more realistic and the plot more complicated.Once the book reached its climax I couldn't put it down. I had to know how it ended. If you are interested in a book with a balance of good characters and action this perfect for you. If your read this book I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Reviewer's Name: McKenzie W.
Fangirl
Rowell, Rainbow
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Cath is moving away to college, but she doesn't feel anywhere near like an adult. In fact, she doesn't even entirely feel like she belongs in this world. Cath is obsessed with the Simon Snow series, i.e. the most famous series of novels ever written chronicling the adventures of a group of teenage wizards. She is one of the most well-known fan fiction writers in the entire Simon Snow fandom, earning tens of thousands of readers on each chapter. Her twin sister, Wren, used to help her write and fangirl over Simon with her, but lately they've grown apart. Despite going to the same college, Wren decided against sharing a dorm with Cath and is growing irritatingly close with her assigned roommate. By the contrary, Cath's roommate is unpleasant and distant and constantly has her handsome and annoyingly friendly boyfriend around their room. Every week, Cath escapes by writing in the library with a charming fellow English major. Even with her anxieties over the new experiences of college and writing stories using her own characters always in the back of her mind, Cath wrestles with her relationship with her sister, her dad's fragile mental state, romance, and trying to find herself.

Reviewer's Name: McKenna R.
Divergent
Roth, Veronica
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Divergent is part of a 3-book series. It's about a 16 year old girl named Beatrice Prior who lives in a Dystopian society. There are five factions, Candor, Amity, Dauntless, Erudite, and Abnegation, each of which represent and practice one virtue that the government believes to be the causes of war when they are lacking. When each child in the society reaches the age of 16, they must choose one faction to dedicate their lives to. An aptitude test displays to them which faction they would most belong in, however, Beatrice comes out as Divergent, someone who contains the attributes of more than just one faction. Being Divergent is a threat toward the society and the government, and if they find out you're Divergent, you will be killed.

Divergent is a moving story based on the character Beatrice Prior who goes through a series of events that help her to determine who she is and where she belongs. We watch her struggle with insecurity and doubting herself, a common struggle throughout all teenagers, and we see her overcome them. She becomes confident in herself and her decisions, just like we must all learn to do.

This book is honestly one of my favorites. It's packed with action and suspense, while at the same time it inspires and teaches. It's unique and different from other action stories and definitely keeps the reader intrigued. However, I'd recommend it ages 12+. There's a decent amount of violence, some of which might be hard to read for some kids, and a few other scenes and questionable content that might not be age appropriate for children under the age of 12. Overall however, I loved this book and strongly recommend it for teens.

Reviewer's Name: Ella S.
Bodyguard: Recruit
Bradford, Chris
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Connor Reeves is in the Battle of Britain Junior Kickboxing Tournament champion with a promising career ahead of him. All of that changes when he sees a kid being beat up in an alley. With his father’s selfless blood running through his veins, Connor doesn’t hesitate to come to the victim’s aid. One fight later, he goes with some cops who invite him to join a secret organization called Guardian. Guardian specializes in the protection of high-risk, wealthy targets. Everyone is shocked when his first assignment is to protect the President’s daughter, after barely any training. This book is filled with suspense as Connor solves the clues to rescue her. I would highly recommend this book and book series to all middle school readers.
Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Lola F.
Highly Illogical Behavior
Whaley, John Corey
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Highly Illogical Behavior is a story about a boy named Solomon Reed who not only has severe panic attacks but also has a fear of the outdoors which is known as agoraphobia. Lisa Praytor remembers the last time she saw "the boy in the fountain" in junior high when he had a panic attack and fell into the water fountain. She never knew him but she'd always wondered what had happened to him and where he went. This was the last time Solomon had gone outside for three years...it was better that way. He was safe from all of the world's craziness and despite his loneliness Solomon was happier living indoors because it was quiet and mundane and there was nothing for him to worry about. A girl named Lisa Praytor cannot wait to get out of the small town of Upland. One day Lisa saw an ad for Solomon's mother's dentistry practice in a newspaper so she immediately scheduled an appointment hoping to hear about how Solomon is doing. Lisa is interested in psychology and has to do an essay on her experience with mental illness. so she thinks that if she can meet Solomon and get him to slowly go outside and get over his agarophobia she would have a killer essay and would get accepted into a college that was far, far away from the small town of Upland. This book is one that is very hard to put down. The characters are very well-developed and all likeable in their own unique way. It's a quick read but nevertheless emotional and heart-filled.

Reviewer's Name: Elizabeth P.
Genres:
The Fires of Heaven
Jordan, Robert
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The Fires of Heaven is the fifth installment in the fourteen book series, The Wheel of Time. It is simply incredible how Robert Jordan keeps writing these amazing novels. The Fires of Heaven is certainly not as good as the first three books, but it is still a great book. It contains intrigue, suspense, and one of the longest battle sequences so far. All the characters are still unique and interesting (especially Mat), and the storylines are still fresh. I would recommend this book to anyone currently reading the Wheel of Time series, and would recommend the series to any fans of high fantasy.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C.
Genres:
Stargirl
Spinelli, Jerry
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This past semester I took a children’s literature class that introduced me to a plethora of young adult novels; “Stargirl” by Jerry Spinelli being one of them. Because of the curious title I decided to borrow the book from the library. I am so glad I did.
Jerry Spinelli’s book “Stargirl” tells the story of an unusual teenage girl who, after homeschooling her entire life, starts attending Mica High School in a small, Arizona town. The book is narrated by Leo, a regular teenage boy who becomes very interested with this peculiar new girl at his school. This peculiar girl goes by the name “Stargirl”. She confuses most of the school with her whimsical and unpredictable personality.
The way Jerry Spinelli tells his story through Leo, a regular kid, makes the reader feel as if they are one of the students at Mica High School noticing Stargirl for the first time. The unusual and sometimes startling things she does spark your interest and occasionally make you squirm in your seat. Stargirl is unlike anyone, and that is what makes her so fascinating; not only to Mica High School students but also to the reader. The story was not only great, but the message the book conveyed is very important. The book makes readers think about how often they adjust their personality and actions just to please those around them. It pointed out how rarely people are truly themselves anymore because of societal pressures.
Overall the story definitely made an impact on me and I would recommend this book to anyone who has a hard time being themselves because of pressures others have placed on them (Side note: I would recommend this book to anyone in general as well). The only reason I have decided to give this book 4 stars instead of 5 is because of the ending. Without giving any spoilers I will say that I love unexpected endings, but this one did not settle well with me. Nevertheless, I still loved almost the entire story and I will be reading it again in the future.

Reviewer's Name: Ashlyn P.
Genres:
The Lord of the Rings
Tolkien, J. R. R.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A stout story, a rich song, a tale for all times. Tolkien heard the gorgeous music of narrative, with all its valleys and hilltops, with all the grit of the fight, all the glory of overcoming, all the long, drawnout parts of day-in and day-out small faithfulness. He heard a musical narrative and he composed a symphony. But like all great masterpieces, one’s affections and tastes must be enlarged and strengthened to enjoy wine this strong. Such a stout story is not for the faint in heart. In an era where our literary sensibilities are cheapened by bland paperback fiction, reality TV, inane tweets, texts, and Facebook posts, we are a society easily pleased by cultural fast food, and we often can’t appreciate with the robustness of a story told this well. There are answers in this story to questions we’ve never thought to ask. This story explores places in the heart we’ve never thought to search, depths of the human soul we’ve never considered worth pluming. If we don’t resonate with this story it is because there is much that the author wants to tell us that we are not yet ready to hear.

Search the world over, and I don’t believe you’ll find another piece of fiction as epic, as moving, as heart-transforming, as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. What sets the literary genius of Tolkien above most other authors of fiction is his ability to make his imaginary world shine with such brilliance that the affections of the heart will come to love its shores, its stories, its struggle to stay in the light. Story is one thing that cannot be faked by a shallow writer. Either an author has within him an tale of inspiring beauty, of struggle, of overcoming, of fighting and conquering, of living and dying for what one believes in—or he does not—and what comes out instead is flat, bland, one-dimensional.

But if one is willing to be a patient learner, one can have one’s mind and heart expanded by being a slow and thoughtful reader. If your heart does not sing by the end of the book, if you do not have a new resolve to overcome the evil in your own heart, if you are not transformed to live for truth and beauty by the end, then I wonder that you have a pulse.

The only precaution I give you is the peculiar feeling of sharp disappointment that will pang you as you read the last line of last volume, knowing that the book is over and there will never be another like it. The only solace I allowed myself was the thought that soon my children will be at an age to appreciate it and I can relive the volumes through their imaginations. Be prepared to mourn for the series' finitude even as you enjoy every brilliant page.

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
Notes From the Tilt-a-Whirl
Wilson, Nathan D.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This book is an Ecclesiastes-type project. In some ways, you could say it comes to the same conclusions as Ecclesiastes. There is nothing better than to simply enjoy life, says the sage. Woven throughout this delightful commentary on the world in which we find ourselves living, runs the same thread of truth. This world is full of enough mystery and wonder to fill infinite life times; so wake up and discover it. Don't become numb to the inescapable miracles everywhere you look.

With wit and humor, you will find yourself agreeing that humanism and materialism are the most bazaar and ridiculous of all philosophies. They are too inane to even warrant serious discussion. How does Wilson deals with someone like Nietzche? "I want to ruffle his hair. I want to take the poor Lutheran boy's head in my hands and kiss his creased forehead." This is perhaps a good illustration of this book's intentions. Wilson ruffles the hair of all philosophies which turn deaf ears to the noise that all creation is loudly proclaiming: there is a creator.

One can almost imagine a serious-minded humanist bursting into laughter while reading this and realizing how deliberately closed-minded he has been all his life.

But Wilson not only opens our eyes to the wonders of God's design in creation, but tackles the mysteries of suffering, pain, and hell head on. He does not try to neatly sum it all up for us in trite sayings, but instead simply stares reality in the face. You will not find any sugar-coating in this book. An atheist once asked Wilson, "So do you really think I'm going to hell?" Wilson promptly answered, "Don't you want to? You won't have to be with God there. Whereas you would have to be with God all the time in heaven." In the end, Wilson concludes, everyone will get what he truly desires.

This is enjoyable reading, much like the book of Ecclesiastes, and at times, could be categorized with the stream-of-consciousness genre. But it was refreshing, humorous, and most of all starkly truthful. You will be enlightened and refreshed!

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Tolstoy, Leo
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end leads to death.”

This short story was a moving reminder to me of the potential that a narrative has to move the soul to understand things that propositional truths have failed to convey.

All Ivan’s life, the realization that he would someday die was something that he believed theoretically, but he could never quite make the fact real to himself. Other people would die, yes, but the reality that he would someday have to die, and also perhaps suffer some before death took place, had no reality to him, no real meaning, no authenticity to his mind.
Until…one day he found that he was in fact dying.

This came as a deranged shock. He had never truly considered the matter seriously. What was happening seemed strange, foreign, out-of-place. He continually tried to deny the fact that he was dying, but a gnawing pain in his side, that daily grew stronger despite being seen by all the top doctors, was his constant reminder that death, his very own death, was real and imminent.

Much of this short book relates mundane details of Ivan’s life: how he met his wife, his occupation, the people he spent time with, and what gave him joy in life. But rather than these details being tedious, they fascinated me because they showed how the small, seemingly insignificant choices of a man’s life are what make a man. And every line of this story is full of meaning as it leads up to a definite point, like any great work of fiction ought to do.

“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end leads to death.” Ivan’s story draws one in because Ivan is not a “bad person,”
by society’s standards. He keeps only the best society, he follows all the rules of decorum, he does not commit crimes or murder or steal. His conscience never bothers him. He is faithful to his wife, provides for his children, and makes sure that everything in life runs smoothly and quietly.
He rarely raises his voice, and he suppresses his anger whenever his wife makes a scene. He sees himself as the perfect gentleman.

But pain has a way of bringing to the surface what lies deep within a man’s heart. And it is not until the pain reaches a fever pitch, that Ivan, for the first time in his entire life, is able to see clearly what has been true his entire life.

I highly recommend this short book!

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
Genres:
The Scarlet Letter
Hawthorne, Nathaniel
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Rich with symbolism and human feeling, the compassionate author leads us to consider deepest plumes of human sentiment. We are artfully led by the hand into the inner corridors of human hearts, where we are taught to stare down passion, shame, despair, revenge and finally courage.

First, we are compelled to walk around in a world where there is no forgiveness. We are removed from the fresh and life-giving promises of scripture to a stale and unrelenting universe, a universe in which once you have sinned in certain ways, you are branded for life. Hawthorne’s world takes the world of Jesus and turns it upside down. Where Jesus welcomed the repentant prostitutes and the reformed tax collectors and had his very harshest words for the proud, exacting Pharisees, in Hawthorne’s world the town’s peoples’ sins of unforgiveness and pride are smugly overlooked.
Hawthorne’s world does to us what all good fiction ought to do: it causes us to shudder. We feel instinctively the cruelty of the sentence placed upon the young woman and the baby, although we acknowledge her sin. This should lead us to praise our God for the forgiveness and grace that is so freely offered us in scripture. As the Pharisees ask Jesus what they should do with the woman caught in the act of adultery (and where, I always wonder, is the man?), we should know his response: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” John 8:7

Yet we come to appreciate the large-heartedness of Jesus all the more as we come to live in the world of Hester Prynne. Hawthorne, understanding the longing that we all feel to be welcomed and loved unconditionally within a society of people, haunts us with the solitary and scorned life Hester Prynne is relinquished to. As we sink deep into the mire of her forlorn pit, our hearts should soar all the more with the blessed promises of our great God:
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Eph 2:12,13

As we walk around in Hester Prynne’s world, we know what it would be like to be separated from Christ, to be alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, to be cut off from the promises of God. And yet we rejoice, because we know by faith that Hawthorne’s world is a skewed, twisted world, bearing no resemblance to the true community of faith.

Hawthorne’s character Dimmesdale is as unlike to Christ as nearly any man can be. Dimmesdale’s portrayal of failed manhood is so epic, I can scarcely think of another rival in literature. Here we see a man so small, so petty, so devoid of the smallest scrap of courage or courtesy, that he sits back passively allowing a woman to not only care for, love, and instruct his child alone, but also do so while laboring under the unrelenting sorrow of his shame. He sees this woman daily scorned, reviled, despised, belittled, made an object of while he walks around enjoying his position of influence and respect in others’ eyes. The fact that his sin daily eats away at him till his health is completely deteriorated does not make him any less pathetic in my eyes. No, he is the more pathetic for it. For he shows none of the manly dominance over human affairs that God gave to Adam when he blessed him and gave him dominion over the world. Instead, Dimmesdale is a peon, a victim of circumstance, a shadow of man, resigned to say simply “come what may,”
devoid of action and refusing to take responsibility at every turn.

What a striking contrast to our mighty savior. It is the man Jesus Who in all things takes the initiative. Jesus takes the shame for sins He never committed. Jesus stands up and takes our punishment. Jesus bears all our sorrow and our shame. Jesus, though perfect, identified himself with the lowly, with sinners and allowed himself to be crucified in the most undignified and hideous fashion, next to violent criminals. Jesus, instead of leaving a woman to lonely sorrow while he enjoyed respect, became a man of sorrows, well acquainted with grief. (Is. 56)

Is the Scarlet Letter a book for today? Why else does abortion flourish today except that we are plagued with a generation of Arthur Dimmesdales walking our streets? We have everywhere men who will not take responsibility for their actions and protect the children they have carelessly fathered.
Instead, they take their women to the clinic in the shadows and leave them to the abortionist scalpel, which brands hearts with a letter so hot and scarring, only the red-hot blood of Christ will heal.

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
Gilead
Robinson, Marilynne
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I feel the same way about this book as I do certain of my favorite foods: I absolutely love it but I can understand why someone else wouldn't. The very distinctness of this book is what makes it so lovely. If you're looking for an action-packed page-turner, keep looking. This is a book to be savored.

On the pages of Gilead, I was confronted with the transcendence, the miracle that is everyday life. The author beckoned me to see the smallest detail of existence as a thing to be cherished. I found myself deeply moved by the quiet steadiness of a man who had lived in one small, inconsequential town his whole life. He wrote no great books, and made no national waves, but he was faithful and content. What a concept! Yet he fought real battles! They were the struggles he waged in his own heart. For instance, he fought hard to love the wayward son of his best friend who had caused the family so much grief for decades, and had now returned. But in the end, he rose as a victor, and gave a blessing so moving it could change the course of a life. He had struggled for decades with loneliness. While his best friend had a household of eight kids, he had remained wifeless and childless for years after his first wife had died in childbirth. But this eventually served only as a platform to make him a stronger and more sensitive man--a man able to love more deeply because of all his heartache. All of this is described so skillfully, so carefully, that the reader cannot help but love all that the author loves. And what else is a good story for if not to capture the affections?

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
Home
Robinson, Marilynne
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is not some trite, feel-good, cliche-gushing, sappy-ending kind of book. I'd say rather, Robinson portrays a little love for Flannery O'Connor in her writing. But a reader must remember that an author writes this way, not always to be dark for darkness sake (like Poe), but to sketch the world as she believes it really is. Home portrays the world as a messy place, with the messiest of all places on earth being the human heart.

Jack Boughton has wandered the world for 20 years as the wayward son of a faithful pastor but returns back home, just before his father passes away.
Jack relives much of his childhood as he returns to this home he has been gone from his whole adult life. Here he must face the remembrance of not belonging to something lovely, something he was and still is cut off from. He sees how a darkness in his heart has kept him from the light, the warmth, the fondness of family love. He has been a heartache to his parents and this he hates. But hating oneself is not the same thing as redemption; neither is regret; neither is simply making a physical trip to one’s childhood home, nor caring for your father for the last few weeks of his life. Reminiscing with your little sister and visiting all your old haunts, no, none of these things alone makes for redemption. It is much more complicated than all of that, and can only happen in the heart. Like many good books, the reader is not given a pat, 5-step plan. The path is left ambiguous. But we are only given hints. Jack whispers one of the deepest longings of every human heart, when he says to his father under his breath, “Bless me, even me also, O my father.” (From Genesis 27:34)

There is no tidy reconciliation scene between father and son, although Jack at one point tries to fake a change in his beliefs to ease his father's last days, but his father sees right through it. However, before the book ends, Jack receives a blessing from his namesake, his father’s best friend, and this is where the unexpected power to both forgive and to claim a promise, pierces through the binding darkness that Jack on his own could never have escaped.

A father who loves unconditionally a wayward son, and a life-long family friend who intercedes between a father and a son who love each other but can't understand each other, these two things are among the strongest forces on earth.

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
Jayber Crow
Berry, Wendell
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

We all read in order to see through someone else’s eyes, C. S. Lewis has famously remarked. Jayber Crow is a novel that opens one’s eyes to the little-known world of living in backwoods obscurity, with all its glories and hardships. This is a world that is forever cut off from the majority of city-dwelling America, because one realizes that to truly enter into one such community, one must be born there.

After Jayber’s aunt dies, 11 year-old Jayber is sent to live at an orphanage, but never feels at home. After graduating, he wanders some, taking a job as a barber in a city, but always he feels out of place. Finally, he makes his way back to his tiny hometown where he is immediately recognized, helped, and accepted. Being back there, he feels a connection to his young parents who died when he was 4, and to his loving great aunt who took him in until she died when he was 11. People in the town of Port William remember his kin, and immediately see Jayber as one of them. He never leaves.

Jayber spends his whole life as the town barber, which involves much more than cutting hair. Listening to people’s stories and watching their lives, Jayber becomes part of something greater—a community built on permanence and unconditional love. That’s not to say that all is rosy in this little community. Jayber struggles with questions about God that he can’t find easy answers to. He also deeply loves a girl that ends up in an unhappy marriage to an unfaithful and foolish man, and he grieves for her, wishing more than anything that she could be happy. He grieves for her when her children’s lives bring her much pain through various tragedies. But ultimately, Jayber matures and changes throughout the book by learning the value of honest hard work, contentment and faithfulness to one’s word.
These are truly small-town values that are shown for all their worthiness in a setting that will draw you in and make you thankful for the time you got to spend in Port William, Kentucky.

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
Awards:
Genres:
Housekeeping
Robinson, Marilynne
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

How can the deepest loss be quantified? What happens in the heart of a little girl when her mother drives off a cliff after leaving her and her sister alone at Grandma’s? How does such a girl become a woman? Who does she grow to be?

In the achingly beautiful prose that only Robinson can craft, the reader comes to taste a small portion of the fear, the ache, the loneliness that is the human heart. All these emotions find their representation in the haunting landscape that surrounds the forsaken town of Fingerbone. The defining feature of this town, next to its remoteness, is a great, icy lake. A train full of many passengers, including the young girls’ grandfather, once plunged off the bridge into that lake. Her mother also drove her car into it.
By staring into it, Ruthie sees everything lovely swallowed up. As she grows older, she finds herself bound to the same hopelessness that drove her mother into there. She begins to feel the pull.

Ruthie’s aunt Sylvie, now her guardian, represents the living dead.
Although she has never tried to drown herself in the lake, Ruthie begins to realize more and more that the cold lake is where Sylvie’s heart lies. She begins to see Sylvie as a representation of what her mother would be like if she had never driven off, but wished everyday that she could. What Ruthie needs as she comes of age is someone to bring her into the light. She needs someone to be the mother she never had: to delight in her and think that everything she does is adorable. But true to real life, the longing that Ruthie has is never realized and she resorts more and more to the cover of darkness.
This is a book that stares loss in the face for what it truly is. When one gives one’s life over to darkness, the ripple effects are so devastating, so tragic, so destructive, that a little girl can be forever derailed. And what can be more heart-rending than that?

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
Genres:
Middlemarch
Eliot, George
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Few novels have the ability to do several things at once, and do them well:
invoke a strong sense of place, bring characters to brilliant light, create a plot that intrigues, and allow all three of these elements to weave together into a pattern that is simultaneously beautiful, heart-breaking, and resonating with every day life. But Middlemarch achieves these things effortlessly. A small, provincial village, with all its petty pursuits, its bickering, its politics, but also its small acts of heroism, soon has the reader feeling as if he knows this place to well; it could almost be his home.

The real draw of the book however is the depth to which each character becomes known to the reader, known better than we know our friends, and maybe better than we know ourselves. Only a master novelist can peel back the layers of a character's mere actions and reveal the motivations of the heart.
She doesn't just show us unhappy marriages, she shows us why they are unhappy. Pettiness and self-absorbtion consumes some, kindness and devotion are what others live for.

I highly recommend this piece of superb literature for its insight into the relationship of the sexes, and how things can go wrong, and how things can go right. She doesn't shy from the ugliness of relationships, while also showing how much good can be done to one whose heart is devoted to goodness.

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
Cry, the Beloved Country
Paton, Alan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The mystery of unbelief and rebellion and the misery that flows flows from it, is a great theme in scriptures and is played out painfully and powerfully in this epic novel. The questions surrounding unbelief, the pain to all who witness lives unraveling, and the consequences that lead to death can never be expounded upon simply. They are mysteries without simple answers.

In this profound book, some are driven to evil and misery by poverty and social injustice. But others, particularly two of the main characters, choose dark paths when they have been given every opportunity out. Light and life are offered but they follow after death and darkness.

Although this is story set in South Africa, it bears meaning for all time.
All are offered living water. "Come to me all you who thirst, come buy and eat, without money and without price." But many will not come. The dog returns to his vomit and sow to wallowing in his mud. To those who have tasted of the everlasting water, to those who know life and light, this remains among life's greatest mysteries. Everyone is offered cleansing waters of forgiveness, they are offered an eternal pardon, they are offered everlasting joy, they are offered peace and hope, but they love the darkness.
And they suffer for their choice as their life unravels thread by thread, and they bring grief upon grief on everyone who loves them. But they do not care and they do not turn. And Jesus wept over Jerusalem saying: "How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood, but you were not willing."

A father weeps over a son and a sister, and as he weeps, he participates in the weeping of Jesus over Jerusalem. And yet, there is one in the story who flees corruption.

The ultimate crisis of this story takes place in the heart of the old priest who has led a faithful life. For darkness is predatory and never at rest, but it creeps and pursues and desires to consume and devour and distinguish all light. Will the priest be overtaken by hopelessness and despair and fear in his darkest hour? Will anger and perplexity and grief have the final word in his bereaved heart? Where will he turn to comfort? The darkness will not stop pursuing him and will not be content until he too has lost his joy in life.
How will he fight? What will he hold on to?

Highly recommend.

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
Awards:
Boys of Blur
Wilson, Nathan D.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Out of the putrid slime of a Florida swamp emerges a tale that is oozing with a sense of place. The reader feels as though a thin line of sweat is trickling down the side of his face while he bakes beneath a relentless Florida sun. As one reads, one can nearly feel the smoke blinding the eyes and burning the nostrils next to a blazing cane field, while cool mud squishes between the toes. Before too long, the reader finds that this obscure, out of the way place, a place he never gave any thought to, a place no one would ever think to visit…is a place he begins to love.

Any skilled author intuitively knows that the setting of a well-told story is so intimately woven into the legend itself, that to rip the tale out of its setting would unravel the very threads of the narrative itself. Can you imagine what would be left of To Kill a Mockingbird if it was removed from a 1930’s Alabama small town? Imagine the Tale of Two Cities not taking place in England and Paris during the French Revolution? Similarly, this glorious story is its place and the place is the story.

But the brilliance of a master storyteller is not only to nurture a sense of place, but to use this backdrop as the means to develop universal themes that speak to the deepest yearnings of all people in all places. This book adeptly portrays true fatherhood as not being a matter of mere biology, but of heart loyalties. One’s affections are moved to esteem the courage of a mother who saves her son from a cycle of violence. But most importantly, the book reminds the reader of the timeless need, in all corners of the earth, no matter how remote, how obscure, how removed—the universal need for a hero.
The true hero faces the danger head on, with no thought of his own skin, purely out of love and loyalty to the helpless who need him. He can arise from an unlikely place, from a checkered past, from outside the “in crowd.” This is the message the world will always long to hear; the message of Beowulf.

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor
A Tale of Two Cities
Dickens, Charles
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Profound human love and the most repugnant savagery, horror and redemption, a heroine and a grotesque revenger, two families with dark secrets, two cities, all in the backdrop of the bloodbath that was the French Revelation. In reading it, be prepared for the "Best of Times and the Worst of Times."

Like all great stories, the brilliance of this tale is its ability to not only intimately draw us into the tangled lives of these characters, battered by the historical tyrannies of their time, but to use their story as a parable to understand the human narrative as a whole. Perhaps this is why Dickens believed this book to be his magnam opus; perhaps he felt like it was his clearest statement of what he believed.

The struggles of a small family open the reader's eyes to understanding the larger struggles of humanity in general. We learn not only about the turmoil and violence plaguing France at the time of the French Revolution, but the sin and darkness plaguing our human race. Through this story, we understand principles which will prove true for all times and all places. Dickens writes that the evil cruelty of the French aristocracy gave birth to something according to its kind, the French Revolution, as all things since beginning of creation have produced according to their kind. Evil begets more evil.
This is the story of humanity.

But redemption and resurrection echo throughout the novel as well. Darnay had a mother, who, though an aristocrat, once sought to make restitution for the something incredibly cruel her heartless husband had done. This woman is mentioned only once briefly in the whole book, but her influence on her son Charles Darnay profoundly changed the course of Darnay's life and the whole book.

Even Dickens' style of writing is a reflection on the truth of real life. For instance, every single scene in the book is important to the story, although for the first half of the book, the reader can't figure out how it will come together. But at the end, as everything is revealed, the reader can think back and see the purpose for each scene. Similarly, as we walk through life, we rarely understand the purpose for the various scenes we find ourselves in.
Although we will never understand completely until heaven, there are times when it is all brought together and we see the purposes behind puzzling circumstances.

In typical Dickens style, this book is written to tug at your heart strings.
But this is not done in a manipulative or sentimental way, but in the most straightforward way possible: by giving an often newspaper-sounding account of the events that take place in each scene. Yet any reader with a pulse will be profoundly moved in numerous scenes. How does he do this? By focusing his accounts on the human element, the true purpose behind any story. Woven through every page in this book is the message that every human being counts.
Collectivism, sacrificing the individual for the group, is shown to be barbaric.

Another stroke of genius is Dickens uncanny way of portraying evil. Madame DeFarge becomes in the book everything that she hates. The reason she got to be the way she is, was because of something terrible that was done to her sister and brother by the aristocracy when she was still young. And yet, at the end of the novel, it is said of her that as she puts men and women to death, she cares nothing that they may be innocent, or that they may leave behind a bereft sister or brother or wife. She only cares that more and more people die, and she is never satisfied.

In a pre-Flannery O'Connor style, Dickens leaves the reader no room for false hopes in the goodness of humanity. He wants to take your false hopes and hit them out of the ballpark never to be seen again. If there's one thing that this story was supposed to shatter, it is the myth that man is getting better and better, and the solutions to his sin is minor. Redemption is possible, but the price is higher than any of us imagined.

Reviewer's Name: Leslie Taylor

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